by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin, Spiritual Formation Ministries
Throughout the Lenten season, we are offering a focus on apophatic spirituality and contemplative prayer expressed through writer’s experiences, questions, and reflections. Apophatic prayer (without image) invites us to dwell in God as Divine Mystery. In the spirit of Lent, we enter the emptiness and resist the temptation to fill it with our own words, images, and ideas. We trust that the One who is the source of all forms and images is present here and now.
Invitation to Practice: Increasing the Silence
Consider spending time in silence each day during the Lenten season (see the practice of Centering Prayer below). You may start with one minute and work your way up to twenty minutes. Each day, or week, as you spend time in personal prayer or gather with others, increase the amount of time you are willing to encounter the Divine Presence in the silence. In a time of many voices, opinions, and agendas, you are invited to enter the empty spaces that still remain to LISTEN for the ONE VOICE who is still guiding the way to deeper life.
CENTERING PRAYER: A Prayer of Self-Emptying Love
Choose an amount of time to be in silence.
You may start with five minutes, gradually increasing the amount of time whenever you return to this prayer.
Begin by breathing deeply and acknowledging that you are already in the presence of God HERE AND NOW. There is nothing more you need to do to be IN divine presence.
Allow a sacred word (Christ, grace, peace, etc.) to emerge within you that you will use to return you to the intention of being present with God every time your thoughts begin to wander.
Invite God to EMPTY YOU of whatever thoughts, images, or distractions arise in your time of prayer… even if it seems like a divine revelation! Let it go. If it is important, trust that it will return at another time. This is about TOTAL PRESENCE and OPENNESS to the reality of God in this moment.
Gradually notice yourself sinking into the silence, resting in the presence of God even if at first it feels like your mind is full of incessant chatter and distraction. Practice grace. The point isn’t perfection– it is RELATIONSHIP with the ONE who desires your attention and love RIGHT NOW, RIGHT HERE, AS YOU ARE.
When you wander, RETURN. The return is sacred.
When your time of prayer has ended, BREATHE DEEP and GIVE THANKS.
Trust that this presence is with you in every moment throughout your day.
Every moment is an opportunity to empty yourself of whatever keeps you from attention to divine love.
Download a PDF of this practice here: Centering Prayer
Entering the Emptying Way: Ash Wednesday
Perhaps you have been here before. Maybe you greet this path like an old friend…or you dread its opening. Maybe you know the cost of walking its way and what it is worth. Maybe your attachments and addictions already know what’s coming, already start to relent at the signpost that marks this familiar road in the soul.
Or maybe this is your first time. Maybe you are clutching tightly to what is already being released in you, grasping firmly to what is slipping through your fingers—never yours to hold. Maybe it feels like worlds are crumbling within as the images and words you’ve come to rely on begin to hollow, a space opening for what is unseen blowing through.
Maybe you’ve been searching for this path. Maybe it found you. Maybe you have arrived at just the right time. Maybe its presence alone is disrupting what was working just fine for now. However you enter this emptying way, you are welcome here. No one can walk this way for you, but the promise is that you are not walking it alone.
This is the path where every step is a shedding, every turn a deepening. It is the path of surrendering whatever in us restricts our free presence and response to the One who is the Way itself. It may take time to recognize the grace accompanying each release, the immeasurable Presence filling every space made from letting go.
Blessings on your Lenten Journey!